Tim Beiko is one of the most prominent figures in the Ethereum Foundation, with his work and Ethereum-related updates often being cited on the largest financial news outlets.
He’s been working on Ethereum full-time since 2018, and worked at Joseph Lubin’s ConsenSys before switching over to the Ethereum Foundation in 2021.
As one of the leaders who’s responsible for protocol upgrades and developer meetings, Tim is currently heavily involved in preparing for the Ethereum Merge, which is due to take place some time this summer (if everything goes as planned, of course!).
I caught up with him to chat about everything from The Merge, Ethereum’s mainstream adoption, his biggest regrets in crypto and how it’s like working with Vitalik Buterin.
I also decided to activate the hive-mind and asked r/Ethereum, r/ethStaker and r/CryptoCurrency on what kind of questions they would like me to ask. I picked some of the best ones and included them on top of my own.
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Tim, before I jump into the techy stuff and really start picking your brain about Ethereum, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Tim: “What excites me the most is helping projects go from research/prototypes to actually working in the wild. In other words, the “&” in R&D. Ethereum has some of the world’s most exciting multi-disciplinary innovation as part of its core roadmap, so it’s a great place for someone like me to be! I also get a ton of energy from the quality of people I get to work with. It’s really fun to spend time with such smart, motivated, and, frankly, unique people 😄”
What’s your crypto “Hero Journey?”
Tim: “I first heard about crypto from a friend who was always into weird schemes. In 2014, he shared two of them with me. The first was buying physical Iraqi dinars off eBay because their value had plummeted due to sanctions. The hope was to sell them in the future when the US left Iraq and the value went back up. The second was Bitcoin. Although they both sounded as far fetched at the time, Bitcoin was logistically much easier, so that’s the rabbit hole I went down!”
Fast forward a few years, I first started following Ethereum when I heard about TheDAO. I contributed to the project, promptly lost my funds in the hack, then got thrown in the deep end trying to split my coins across ETH/ETC, all in my first month or so of buying Ether. After the hack, I kept an eye on the community, but thought there was a decent chance Ethereum might end up as a failed experiment. In late 2016/early 2017, I started paying more attention as projects began to launch on Ethereum again.
By mid-2017, it was clear to me that even if all the current projects failed, there would likely always be demand for Ethereum. That’s when I started diving deeper. Because I wasn’t super comfortable going all in any of the specific projects at the time, I figured I’d try to contribute to the protocol directly. It took a while for me to find the perfect role, as I wasn’t an engineer or researcher, but in 2018 ConsenSys hired me to be the PM on their new mainnet client, Hyperledger Besu (Pantheon at the time). I got to go to Devcon Prague during my 2nd or 3rd week on the job, and have been immersed in Ethereum protocol development ever since!”
How does your current work in the Ethereum Foundation look like? Can you give us a sneak peak into your day-to-day?
Tim: “A large part of it is reacting to things that come up. At first, as someone who generally tries to be proactive, I felt bad about this. But when Vitalik confirmed on Twitter he operated similarly, I felt much better about myself!
Generally, I’ll wake up, check messages across platforms and see whether there is something urgent that needs to be handled. If so, then that’s what I’ll do that day! If not, I’ll try to get back to folks who sent me messages overnight to make sure nothing is being blocked on me. Then, I’ll usually have a couple meetings in the morning. On good days, I’ll have the bulk of the afternoon to do “deep work”, and some time early evening to work out. I’ll usually monitor things during the evening, but unless it’s urgent, I rarely do more than send a few messages.”
One of the most popular questions I got for you on Reddit was – What motivates and excites you to work on core Ethereum when you could pretty much name your price to work for any DeFi project?
Tim: “Working on the Ethereum protocol is where I can have the largest impact, by far. If you believe Ethereum has the potential to be one of the world’s most impactful technologies over the coming decades, then it’s pretty wild to have an opportunity to help shape it. I also feel a sort of quasi-annoyance when I think of the difference between what Ethereum is today and where it can be. There are so many things we know we need to do to improve the protocol, and every time we get some of them done I feel a little bit better 🙂
EIP-1559 was probably the strongest example of this for me: if you explain Ethereum to someone who doesn’t know how it works, they would intuitively assume that something like 1559 exists. It’s such a natural thing to have a base fee which rises/falls based on demand and captures part of the transaction spend. It felt to me like Ethereum was broken, in a sense, for not having it.
There are a lot of other things like this which are, at a high level, no brainers to have in Ethereum, but just take a ton of work to go from theory to prototypes to being implemented securely enough to be deployed on the Ethereum mainnet. I really enjoy playing a part in that process!”
This may sound silly, but many were wondering whether the work you do in The Ethereum Foundation paid? And if it is – Is it paid in ETH?
Tim: “Of course we are paid hahah! You can choose to get paid in ETH, yes. They’ve even recently added L2 payments!”
What is one of your achievements in working on Ethereum that you’re most proud of?
Tim: “To date, definitely helping to rebuild momentum on EIP-1559 and getting it deployed to mainnet. The Merge might top that, though!”
What are some interesting things happening in Ethereum that we don’t know of?
Tim: “We’re writing an executable specification for Ethereum’s execution layer (EL). Today, the Ethereum specification is in poor shape: on the execution layer, it is effectively “the Yellow Paper along with the latest fork’s EIPs”, and on the consensus layer (CL), it is a separate executable specification. So on the EL side we have readable EIPs, but a disjoint (and math-heavy) spec, and on the CL, we only have the code changes to the specifications, along with their PRs for descriptions.
My hope is that with an EL executable spec, we can move to a simpler system where we use EIPs to describe changes in English, and then link to the executable specifications across the EL & CL. This way, we get the best of both worlds: an accessible repository of changes, EIPs, and a clear specification implementation which is always in sync with mainnet across both the EL & CL.”
How would “Mass Adoption” for Ethereum look like in your opinion?
Tim: “I’m not sure it looks much different than today, but at a larger scale. We have working applications, improving UX, and there is a general awareness of Ethereum/blockchain, but it’s all a bit early, and fees are too high. One thing I think is important is that narratives around Ethereum’s culture, permisionlessness and decentralization persist even as we expand beyond crypto-natives.”
Do you think that a Blockchain be both concentrated and decentralized?
Tim: “In a way, yes. There are some things which lead to centralization by their very nature. That said, I think it’s paramount that we maintain, and explicitly design in the protocol, checks and balances to ensure that centralizing forces are kept honest. One simple example is proof-of-work: although it is extremely hard to produce a block on Ethereum, it is trivial to verify that a block is valid. This is why you want a healthy amount of non-validating nodes on your network: even if they don’t get to create a block, they can flag a malicious block being created, and stop it from being propagated on the network.
There are several areas where similar centralizing forces exist, and I think it’s important we design ways by which large actors are kept honest by the entire network. MEV is one of the most notable examples right now, and a lot of Ethereum’s future roadmap is likely to focus on making sure we avoid excessive centralization in that space.”
What’s the next big focus after the PoS merge (other than staking withdrawals and sharding)?
Tim: “Those two are already huge! But, if you are asking for more, two that are very important are statelessness and proposer/builder separation.”
The recent Kiln testnet merge attempt was a huge milestone for the actual thing – Can you tell us a little bit about what went down?
Tim: “The goal with testnets is to identify issues and fix them early, preventing them from happening on mainnet. We run through several testnets (and devnets, which typically don’t get advertised to the broader community) of increasing complexity to ensure that code is robust across all possible scenarios.
In December, we launched Kintsugi, which was our first new public testnet. At that point, we expected the specification to be mostly in good shape and wanted to start getting real applications to deploy on it. We found some issues on the network during times of non-finalization, and got initial data points about applications working as expected.
We recently launched Kiln, our second public testnet, with these fixes. Now, we are looking for implementation and application or tooling-level issues. We’ve already found a few of the former and are working on fixes. This is the time for the community to try the network and make sure their projects work on post-merge Ethereum.
Once we are confident that things are stable, we will move to upgrade Ethereum’s existing public testnets (Goerli, Ropsten, Sepolia, etc.) and monitor them afterwards. Once all testnets have been upgraded and are stable, The Merge will happen on mainnet!”
How is it like working with Vitalik?
Tim: “I think the most impressive thing, beyond his raw smarts & EQ, is his ability to focus on the most important problems at a given moment. It’s always wild to see him jump in at exactly the right place when you imagine the amount of inbound he must get!”
You get to display a huge billboard and everyone in the world sees it, what do you write?
Tim: “I don’t have a great answer here, so I guess I’d just put a picture of my dog, DoDam, until I came up with something better 😄”
Best short advice for people who want to get into Ethereum development?
Tim: “Ethereum is so broad now! Unfortunately, I don’t have a great recommendation for Solidity/application development. For protocol work, I’d suggest looking around various Ethereum clients Github repositories, ethereum-magicians.org or ethresear.ch until you find something that piques your interest. This recent list of links by Vitalik is also a great start!”
Best crypto podcast to follow?
Tim: “I very rarely listen to crypto podcasts! I spend all day focused on crypto, so I often listen to other types of podcasts. Recently, I’ve been enjoying Cold Takes.”
Do you own any NFTs?
Tim: “Not really, but someone sent me the #1559 Chromie Squiggle and I really like it!”
Lamborghini or Ferrari?
Highest transaction fee you ever paid?
Tim: “Don’t want to think about it 😐”
So… Wen Merge?
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